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Dakota Datebook: Secrets of Bob Watson

December 28, 2017 — Today’s story is from the Mandan Daily Pioneer in December 1926.

“‘Bob Watson, 22, hotel clerk, pick and shovel cement worker, nifty swain of local young ladies, former miner, rodeo rider, today joined HER husband, Glen A. Halling on a farm near Price, N.D. Her masquerade locally, as a young man, came to an end after more than a year’s residence when Chief of Police Nels H. Romer, of Mandan, and Chief Martinson, of Bismarck, called in a Red Cross nurse and others at Bismarck last evening to settle their suspicions on the matter of sex.”

‘B’ had cashed a check on a Mandan bank with a Bismarck grocer, the story explained. Funds were insufficient. Bob was arrested but released on making good the amount and payment of a fine when arraigned before Justice Harry Crane in Bismarck.

“Yes, I’m just an ordinary girl,” she admitted. “Why I’ve been wearing men’s clothes and working as a man for years. Men’s clothes cost a lot less than girl’s clothes, and besides, posing as a man I could travel with my husband and get jobs along with him,” she told Chief of Police Romer.

In Setpember 1925, Bob secured a job as a night clerk at the Nigey hotel here, holding it for six months, the story went on. She, rather he, had a high voice but got by. She rustled huge chunks of ice and did a man’s work. [An argument] over a telephone bill ended the job.

Then Bob got a place with a gang of laborers tearing out old cement sidewalks, paving and areas at the Mandan federal building. [But] hustling heavy wheelbarrow loads of refuse proved too much for her.

“My name was Dorothy Foster. I’m 22 years old. I was born and raised at Townsend, Montana. And I was married at Anaconda, Montana in 1923 to Glen A Halling,” Bob explained. “Glen and I worked together in the copper mines at Butte and Anaconda. Sure I’ve been wearing men’s clothes ever since I was a little girl. I like ‘em,” she told the police.

She exhibited clippings telling of prizes won riding the bucking horses and steers at rodeos in Butte and Anaconda. Pictures of the ‘boy wonder’ were carried by the papers of the two cities. Her masquerade was perfect.

“‘I can’t afford to wear girl’s clothes. They cost too much,” Bob, or rather Dorothy, declared as she buttoned the natty college boy coat, shuffled her oxford shod foot whose ankle was encased in snappy checked socks, and clapped a neat fedora over her genuine man’s haircut.

“Afraid you’ll have to,” said the minions of the law.

“Dorothy has gone to join her husband who is working the Wetzstein Brothers farm, near Price, on shares. Between jobs in Mandan, between dances and her masquerades, she has cooked for him, helped with farm work. But she isn’t keen on farm life,” the story read.

“I’ve had a lot of fun out of life anyway,” she said.

There were half a dozen young men in the city who had been pals of ‘Bob’ who haven’t recovered from their surprise. They ‘never thought it of him.’

And a good number of young women who have danced, gone to shows, etc. with ‘B’ insisted, “He had a funny voice for a man, but he was a blamed good dancer.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org.

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